“For me the attraction to older formats is having the hard copy. Owning something that’s tangible, not just a digital copy. Being able to study a record sleeve’s artwork or hold up a negative to the light just makes it a bit more special to me.”
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: JUSTIN POULTER
MOST PEOPLE KNOW YOU AS QUITE A PROMINENT GRAPHIC DESIGNER AND ILLUSTRATOR, HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SHOOTING FOR NOW AND WHERE DID YOUR INTEREST IN SHOOTING ON FILM COME FROM?
When I studied graphic design we had photography as a small part of our curriculum. We learnt all the dark room basics, beginning with making our own pinhole cameras, developing the film ourselves and progressing to using SLRs with full studio lighting setups. At the time I enjoyed it but found it very technical and frustrating. My interest in photography really boiled over when I moved to England in 2010. All the fresh sights and all the people got me really hyped. Thanks to my course at college, 35mm seemed like the natural way to go for me.
WHAT CAMERA ARE YOU SHOOTING WITH AT THE MOMENT AND WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE THAT PARTICULAR MODEL?
I use two different cameras at the moment. A Canon AE-1 SLR for the landscape and travel sort of stuff, and a Contax TVS for the portrait stuff. The Contax is small, unobtrusive and easy to carry around, which is ideal for shooting people’s portraits. I like that it has auto focus, but you can still manually set the aperture and focus distance if you want.
DO YOU HAVE A SELECTION OF CAMERAS THAT YOU SHOOT WITH OR DO YOU MOSTLY STICK WITH ONE?
I go through phases with cameras. I get bored of them or they end up dying on me. I also really enjoy the search for good quality 35mm cameras and the challenge of learning how to use them properly. It’s hit and miss, sometimes you get really lucky.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CHOOSING THE SUBJECT MATTER THAT YOU DOCUMENT? WHAT DRAWS YOU TOWARDS A CERTAIN FRAME, COMPOSITION OR CHARACTER?
I think it just comes down to personal taste. Besides one or two test shoots I did recently, there’s never really been any sort of brief or requirements so it’s purely what catches my eye. Sometimes I think I like something, but then as a photo it doesn’t really work. Most of the time it’s just my friends and the places I go.
THERE IS A LOT OF INTEREST IN PEOPLE RETURNING TO USING OLDER EQUIPMENT AGAIN, INSTEAD OF DIGITAL – LPs, TAPES OR IN THIS CASE FILM. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE DRAW CARD LURING PEOPLE BACK INTO THE PAST AGAIN?
For me the attraction to older formats is having the hard copy. Owning something that’s tangible, not just a digital copy. Being able to study a record sleeve’s artwork or hold up a negative to the light just makes it a bit more special to me. It’s also a thing of quality for me. I like the grain and contrast results that I get when shooting on film. I find that I hardly have to do any editing besides the odd cropping. It’s hard to speak about my reasons without sounding snobbish. I don’t think using film makes it harder, or makes you better at all. It’s purely just a personal preference for now.
IT SEEMS THAT IT’S MORE OF AN ARTISTIC INTEREST TO PEOPLE RATHER THAN A MASS MOVEMENT. I CAN’T IMAGINE MAINSTREAM WORKING PHOTOGRAPHERS REVERTING BACK TO FILM ANYTIME SOON, UNLESS IT’S FOR A PERSONAL OR CREATIVE JOB. DO YOU THINK THE MEDIUM WILL EVENTUALLY JUST FADE AWAY COMPLETELY?
I really hope it doesn’t. I know certain formats and processes are becoming less available. Digital cameras are also getting better and better. In terms of mainstream or commercial photography, I think it just makes a lot more sense to shoot digitally. You can get a lot more options in a quicker space of time and make decision while you go, based on results.
HOW MANY PICTURES DO YOU USUALLY FIND TO BE ‘KEEPERS’ IN ONE ROLL OF FILM? IT’S NOT AS IF YOU CAN HAVE A QUICK LOOK, DELETE AND RE-SNAP IT AGAIN. DO YOU SOMETIMES TAKE A PHOTO TWICE, JUST TO BE SURE?
I’ve found that it depends on my experience with the camera. In the beginning the results are always inconsistent but then they start to improve with time. The most challenging thing for me when shooting portraits is the human interaction side of it. It’s difficult to get people to be themselves or just carry on doing what they were doing before you lifted up the camera.
FILM AND THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS IS QUITE A PRICEY EXERCISE THESE DAYS, DO YOU FIND THAT IT MAKES YOU THINK MORE ABOUT THE SUBJECT MATTER THAT YOU CHOOSE TO DOCUMENT?
I used to think about it a lot, to try and not waste pictures. I found that when I started to think about it less, my pictures got better. It’s easy to miss out on a potentially good shot where something interesting is happening but the composition doesn’t feel right.
DO HAVE ANY PARTICULAR BRAND OF FILM THAT YOU PREFER TO USE OR DO YOU JUST SHOOT WITH WHATEVER IS AVAILABLE AT THE TIME?
I generally use Kodak Superior just because it’s easily available and cheap. I treat myself to some Ilford black and white every now and then. Also, I pretty much only shoot on 400 speed. I find it’s adaptable to different light conditions and I like the grain density.
YOU’RE AN ACTIVE SKATEBOARDER AND THAT MEANS YOU MOVE AROUND THE CITY QUITE A BIT, A LOT OF IT REFLECTS IN YOUR WORK. HAVE YOU CONSIDERED MOVING AROUND NATURE A BIT MORE OR ARE YOU MOSTLY INTO URBAN ENVIRONMENTS?
I really enjoy being in nature and shooting there, I just end up doing it a lot more in the city when I’m out on my board or walking about. I’m trying my best not to pigeonhole myself with photos. I want to get a bit of everything, in personal experience and photography. I used to only take my camera out when I was going on a day trip or seeing a new place. But, now I try to take it with me on everyday routes. I like the challenge of finding new interest in familiar scenes.
DO YOU FIND THAT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY INFLUENCES YOUR DESIGN WORK IN ANY WAY?
Sometimes the things that I take pictures of, like signs, etc. But, at this point I see them as two pretty separate things. I like it that way for now, having photography as more of a hobby than a profession
ONCE YOU’VE DEVELOPED A ROLL OF FILM, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE KEY FACTORS THAT MAKE YOU DECIDE ON WHICH PICTURES YOU CHOOSE TO UPLOAD ONTO YOUR BLOG?
Normally it’s just simple basics like focus, composition, exposure, etc. I don’t really edit the stuff so if a picture doesn’t look good enough to me then I won’t labour over it just to get it up on my blog.
DO YOU STILL SHOOT ANYTHING ON DIGITAL AT ALL OR ARE YOU ONLY SHOOTING WITH FILM AT THE MOMENT?
I use my camera on my phone all the time, but that’s the only digital camera I really use at the moment. I’m looking into getting one soon though. I’ve never really owned a decent digital camera.
YOU HAVE ACCUMULATED QUITE A BODY OF WORK OVER THE YEARS, ARE YOU WORKING TOWARDS SOME SORT OF EXHIBITION OR WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS WITH ALL THE PICTURES YOU HAVE IN YOUR ARCHIVE?
I don’t really have any specific plans at this point. I’d love to do some kind of book or zine on my own at some point but for now I’m just going to keep taking pictures. Hopefully a strong theme will develop that’s exhibition worthy, but right now I don’t really see my pictures that way.
PLEASE GIVE US 5 ALBUMS THAT WOULD DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
THEE OH SEES
(A) SENILE ANIMAL
MY BLOODY VALENTINE